Following a warning by the US on its gas pipeline project with Iran, Pakistan has said it will not violate international law but hoped the multi-million dollar deal, crucial to its energy needs, would not come under the ambit of fresh sanctions on Tehran.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it would be premature to give a final opinion on whether the US sanctions targeting Iran could affect the ambitious project, hours after US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said he had asked the Pakistanis not to "over-commit themselves until we know the legislation".
Qureshi said the $7.5 billion gas pipeline project should remain intact as it is in the best interests of the country at a time when it is grappling with an energy crisis.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Holbrooke on Sunday said he had warned Islamabad against signing a deal with Tehran on the gas pipeline as the US is preparing sanctions that could affect the project.
Holbrooke told a group of American reporters that Pakistan should not "over-commit" itself to the project till the "comprehensive" sanctions are finalised.
Hours later, Qureshi told reporters in his hometown of Multan that Pakistan needs energy and the pipeline agreement with Iran should remain intact as it is in the best interest of the country.
Pakistani experts hoped that the pipeline project would not be affected by US sanctions imposed on Iran and even US officials did not know for sure whether the pipeline would be affected by the restrictions, Qureshi said.
However, if the pipeline falls under the restrictions, then Pakistan will not violate international laws, he said.
Qureshi said Pakistan will protect its interests with regard to energy, which is an essential requirement of the country.
"All the different phases of the gas pipeline agreement have been finalised and we wish that it should proceed forward," Qureshi said.
Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told the media that the Iran-Pakistan pipeline was not raised during meetings between Pakistani officials and Holbrooke.
UN resolutions too do not prevent Pakistan from carrying on with the project because China and Russia had ensured that Iran's energy sector is not targeted when UN Resolution 1929 was passed by the Security Council, he said.
The comments made by Holbrooke yesterday marked an about-turn from the stand taken by him in an earlier media interaction.
On Saturday, Holbrooke avoided a direct response to a question about the US stand on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline during a news conference at the Foreign Office.
"You're going to go on and this is your country," he had said.
Observers had interpreted these remarks by Holbrooke as an indication that the US would not oppose the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.
The US has, till now, been muted in its criticism of the pipeline as it has had to balance its need to support Pakistan in the war against terror while building pressure on Iran.
Iran and Pakistan recently signed an export deal that commits Tehran to selling natural gas to Islamabad from 2014.
Iran has already built 907 km of the pipeline that will carry natural gas from it's South Pars field.
The pipeline was originally planned to connect Iran, Pakistan and India, though the latter is yet to commit to the project.